Easy accommodations for your gluten-free guests

Guest post by Suzanne Akerman
Hi, I'm a gluten-free cupcake! Photo by Megan Finley.

If you have guests on your list who are going gluten-free and you're confused about how to accommodate their needs, you're not alone. Increasingly, brides are dealing with gluten-intolerant or Celiac guests, whose special diets can be puzzling. The term “gluten-free” means food made without any wheat, wheat by-products, barley, rye, spelt, oats, and by-products or cross-contamination from any of those grains. This takes the traditional wedding cake off the table for these wedding-goers. While you may not want to design your whole cake around just a handful of guests, there are a few quick and easy ways to improve your gluten-free guests' experience.

First, consider the number of guests who will need an alternative to regular cake and the amount of effort you want to devote to providing other options. Many bakeries, specialty stores, and even regular grocery stores are carrying gluten-free baked goods these days, so assign a member of the wedding party to pick up a box of gluten-free cupcakes or muffins to display on the cake table.

You might be afraid a box of cupcakes will look out of place beside your gorgeous wedding cake, but never fear: gluten-free cupcakes can be just as gorgeous as your wedding cake. If you're concerned about the cupcakes matching the larger cake, buy the gluten-free cupcakes a day in advance and give them to your decorator, who can top them with icing that coordinates with the larger cake. A simpler solution is to take all of the photos first and add the gluten-free items on the side after all of the cutting and cake-in-your-face-smooshing is finished.

Homemade gluten-free baked goods can be just as tasty and look just as cute as store-bought ones, plus you'll save the cash by not paying a baker or decorator.

Another way to get gluten-free baked goods to the wedding table is to ask one of your gluten-free guests to provide some treats as their gift to you. Homemade gluten-free baked goods can be just as tasty and look just as cute as store-bought ones, plus you'll save the cash by not paying a baker or decorator.

If acquiring gluten-free baked goods seems like too much hassle, you can provide something sweet that just happens to also be gluten-free. For instance, set out special chocolate bars like the Endangered Species natural and organic chocolate or some common chocolate bars that are already gluten-free. (Snickers, Hershey bars, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, or Baby Ruth bars are just a few such sweets.)

Lastly, now that you've gone to the trouble of supplying your guests with something delicious, make sure they find it! Many people who avoid wheat won't even think to approach the dessert table, so let them know ahead of time that there will be something special provided. Then label your gluten-free desserts clearly; try a cute sign with wording like, “Goodies for Gluten-free Guests.” Your guests will be delighted that they can participate in every aspect of your celebration.

Comments on Easy accommodations for your gluten-free guests

  1. Quick point: gluten-free isn’t as simple as avoiding wheat. There are other grains with high gluten content (like barley) that you have to avoid, and in the States, oats are often contaminated with gluten, because they share manufacturing equipment. For someone with a mild gluten intolerance (like me), that’s fine, but for someone with celiac’s disease, it means misery.
    That being said, it is easy as anything to make delicious gluten free baked goods. Rice flour is your friend.
    One more smallish point (I’m a gluten nerd): xanthan gum, a popular binder in non-gluten baking, can give some people awful awful stomachaches. You might want to check and make sure it’s okay, if you’re going storebought, or just avoid it altogether and use a starch (like corn or potato starch) instead.

    • Thank you for the clarification! I discovered that I have celiac disease 3 years ago and have learned to be very self sufficient when it comes to eating away from home. Trying to accommodate severe food allergies is tricky and it is important for those with special needs to be proactive in getting their needs met!

  2. If you do plan on giving the GF cupcakes to your cake decorator to finish, be aware that if they are in the baker’s kitchen or prep room, they are no longer 100% gluten free. Flour gets into the air, and believe me it gets into everything.
    Also, please be careful about those alternate starches. Sometimes corn and potato starch are not 100% pure. Even 1% can cause problems for people with celiac.
    Otherwise, kudos for for the article!

    • I had a friend with IBS who went gluten free, she said she noticed a huge difference, and that going gluten-free helped her a lot. Theres a lot of things that can be exacerbated by gluten, so thanks for pointing out about the corn and potato starches.

  3. THANK YOU!!! I wish I could send this to all the brides of the weddings I’m going to this summer! I feel so awkward asking them about whether I’ll be able to eat at their wedding. But the bigger issue is dinner… dessert I can do without, but going from 2pm to 2am without knowing if I’ll be able to eat anything they offer is tricky planning. (I usually end up in the bathroom sneaking g-f bars from my purse.)

    And yes gluten is in more than wheat and wheat by-products. Plus 50% of those allergic to gluten are allergic to dairy or eggs, so vegan/gluten-free desserts are the way to go. I threw two vegan/gluten-free receptions last year.. it’s possible!

    Thanks again Offbeat Bride for bringing this up. Feels good to know I’m not alone!

    • Don’t feel awkward asking! I think people far prefer a note with your RSVP saying, “BTW, I have a special dietary consideration.” My sister recently went on a vacation with a gluten free girl who NEVER let anyone know of her diet until her food arrived, and then she’d send it all back.

      Better to get out there and say it than not. 🙂

      • Yes, I’m gluten intolerant and find that people are really understanding if you tell them you have a food allergy. If you tell them you’re avoiding bread they’ll try to stick it in anyway (which I can work around but is annoying). It’s starting to get enough press to where people are more and more accepting that this is an issue for a lot of people.

    • I agree with Lilac.

      My cousin sent a note along with her RSVP to say that her daughter had recently been diagnosed with a peanut allergy and I didn’t mind at all. In fact I was glad she’d told us. The last thing anyone wants at their wedding is a guest having to skip dinner food, or worse getting ill.

    • I would have felt so much better if I’d known about my friends allergies in advance. I’d made sure there was something vegetarian on the menu, but I had several people who weren’t able to eat at all because I wasn’t aware of their allergies until after we’d given the caterer our menu choices. I felt awful about it! So please, send a note with the RSVP or something if you don’t think it’ll occur to who ever is doing the planning!
      Also, for after the wedding, all that information can be tossed into a spreadsheet for feeding people the rest of the time.

      • As a guest with food allergies, I utterly and truly hate it when brides attempt to accommodate for me without me asking because my experience in the catering industry has shown me that often times individuals working for these companies will lie, or not fully understand how to accommodate for food allergies and still not prepare a safe meal. This creates for an extremely awkward and sometimes horrific situation for guests.

        The one incident that really and truly stands out in my mind was when I was yelled at and berated at a black tie wedding reception by the Maitre d at Gleaneagles country club in Dallas (this is one of the fanciest country clubs in the area) because I attempted to politely decline food. It was one of the most horrific experiences in the 9 years I have been diagnosed with celiac disease, being insulted and told I was an idiot for not eating the food they had specially prepared for me when I had no clue if they even knew what gluten-free was much less how to prepare it. If I had not been such a good friend of the bride, I would have gotten up and screamed at the man in front of all of the guests I was so humiliated.

        Moral of the story: If guests do not tell you they have food allergies/intolerances, it might be for a reason. Please do not be pushy as a host. Often times it is less stressful and alienating to just sneak in your own. I know I’ve literally brought in my own meals at several weddings and my own beer just so that I know I will be safe.

        • Maybe try approaching brides/grooms and letting them know they need to consult, or that you’ll bring your own? It’s sad to think you’d have to truly and utterly hate the actions of someone with such good intentions.

        • Agreed! I have a mild peanut allergy and a slightly-less mild pea allergy. I would never want anyone to go out of their way just because I have an allergy. It might be different if I went into shock by eating something manufactured with peanuts, but I don’t. I just turn down the pea soup or peanut butter frosted cake, and I don’t mind at all! (Thankfully, I haven’t had any experiences like yours, SB!)

          • I don’t get this. I as a host do not want my guests to have an allergic shock, nor do I want them to go hungry. I’d prefer if people tell me that they have allergies so we can work something out together.

  4. Thank you SOOO much for this post! All the comments so far are spot on. This is a very serious disease and for some people, more than just an allergy.

  5. My partner’s sister has Celiac Disease, and two other guests at our wedding were gluten-sensitive. (We also had number of other allergies and food preferences to accommodate – no nuts, no fish, vegan, no dairy, no soy, etc). Cake was the easiest thing to figure out. We ordered a gluten free vegan chocolate ganache tart in addition to our other cakes (we had 12 “regular” cakes and no traditional wedding cake). The tart accommodated our vegan/gluten-free/non-dairy guests and was a favorite of the omnivores, too. The meal was a little more difficult. Despite having planned ahead and requested a specific gluten-free meal, the kitchen was slow in getting it out and our wedding coordinator friend had to chase the chef down to get something as delicious as the other food. In all, though, our guests really appreciated having their food needs met, and we were happy to care for our loved ones in that way. We would have made sure to have appropriate food if they visited our home; we wanted out wedding to be the same way.

    • Also, we made sure the tart was clearly marked, had it’s own utensils, and we have people watching to make sure guests didn’t contaminate it. And my GF sister in law ate first.

  6. Yay! I’m going to be a gluten-free bride, and that is going to be tricky, but thank you so much for posting this! It’s good to get the word out there, and since ~1 in 130 people have some kind of gluten issue, it’s a big deal!

    • As another gluten-free bride, I thought I’d mention that we were able to make our whole meal gluten free – we just chose rice/quinoa/potatoes as starches rather than something gluten-y, and picked our other courses the same way. We are still deciding about a gluten-free dessert – we’ll probably end up with a panna cotta, or something similar.

      • We have a Celiac guest and a couple wheat and/or dairy allergy guests. Our caterer has made the menu mostly gluten and dairy free (honestly it wasn’t that difficult and the food tastes amaaaazing), that way they can easily make the “allergy” meals as simple modifications of the regular menu. They are very on top of it (I think it depends a lot on the company, when I worked at a Ben and Jerry’s, they were very serious about peanut allergies, but not all food service places are like that).

        I was at a wedding recently where the mom of one family that has a bunch of allergies among them let everyone know ahead of time how they wouldn’t be able to eat anything at the reception and they would have to starve etc but when they mentioned to the servers that they had certain allergies, they got special meals made up in no time! Not saying that people haven’t had bad experiences, but a good catering company should be able to handle this without a problem!

    • I will be a gluten free bride and I have no problem doing the whole wedding gluten free. Family often try to trick us into eating gluten (not sure why they don’t believe us!). Gluten free food does taste good. It is one day out of their lives – we live with this every day. Besides, they won’t know the difference. (hehe!!)

  7. As a scientist who specializes in gluten-free baking and product production, I also highly recommend that you do not give your decorator gluten-free products to make them look similar to others. I know someone who did this for her wedding (she was the gluten intolerant individual who needed gluten-free) and she ended up in the hospital on her wedding night. Also, as others have mentioned, gluten-free is not just wheat-free. I have no idea where you guys got the idea that this was the case (honestly, it’s a bit offensive as a celiac to hear this because it’s such a major inaccuracy) and buying a “wheat free” product could cause some of your guests to become violently ill.

    Currently there are no gluten-free labeling laws in the United States, thus buying from bakeries that have “gluten-free options” but are not strictly gluten-free could also be dangerous to your guests as well. It takes on average 3-5 days for the flour in the air of commercial bakeries to settle out for it to be safe to produce products for celiacs to consume thus it’s really not a good idea to try it.

    There is quite a bit more to providing safe options for gluten-free guests (including meal options) than what is discussed here that might be useful to brides who are planning gluten-free weddings or planning to feed gluten-free guests. I just hope readers realize this.

  8. My baby sister is Gluten intolerant, and some of her friends who were at our wedding were HIGHLY reactive to Gluten. What worked for us was keeping all the gluten free pre-packaged and sealed in an area in the kitchen, so instead of going through the buffet, they could request their meals directly and not have to worry about the cross contamination.

  9. Oooh– and for those peeps making their own desserts, I like this brownie turned into cupcake tins..like mini flourless chocolate cakes. Coincidentally, I just finished making a batch! It involves almond flour, so if you’re allergic to nuts also, it’s out. . My version’s a little different, but it’s a pretty basic almond chocolate recipe to play with 😉 Mmmm, high 5 to chocolate! http://www.bobsredmill.com/blog/2009/04/13/brownies-made-with-almond-meal-flour/

  10. We had a semi-gluten free wedding. I was the only one there with a sensitivity and was obviously really involved in the planning so it worked out really well for us since I already got to go through the line first, the kitchen made the whole dinner gluten free (minus cross contamination issues, which tend to not bug me) and I knew that the chocolate cupcakes were all gluten free and decorated first. I will admit that I was swollen by the end of the night, but my sensitivities are also closely related to my stress levels so I had been swollen for days.

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